MET:Webcasts as an e-Learning tool for professional development
Page authored by Mariana Reinoso (2013)
A webcast is the live broadcasting of media (text, graphics, audio, video) over the Internet. Webcasts have existed since the early 1990’s, initially not being interactive, with the end user being a mere spectator of an action already recorded. For this reason, they were popular as a medium to broadcast news. As technology was developed and data transfer speeds increased, webcasts were transmitted live in real time, and expanded to other areas, like marketing, advertising, business, family events such as weddings and even funerals; sports events, and of course, e-learning. It has evolved from being a simple method to broadcast media (one to many) to becoming an interactive, synchronous event (also known as webinar or web conferencing).
Interactive webcasts have the following characteristics:
- Live video streaming: the course is transmitted live via the Internet. The students can see the instructor all the time.
- VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol): it allows participants to make calls through the computer for free and stay connected to the webcast instead of making a phone call. This way, the students can listen to the course the entire time, and ask questions if necessary.
- Multimedia and desktop sharing: the instructor can share his/her screen and multimedia like a slide show presentation.
- Chat box: students can communicate with the instructor or with each other in real time, by entering text in the chat box.
- Webcast recording: students have the opportunity to access the webcast once it is over, for reviewing the content.
- Allow a large audience: organizers don't have to worry about finding a venue large enough to accommodate a big group.
Webcasts as an e-learning tool
With technology advancing at the speed of light and blending in every aspect of our lives, it was just logical that education would be also touched. For example, learning has evolved into e-Learning (electronic learning) enabling students to access educational materials and follow courses anytime, anywhere, using a computer and an Internet connection. With the spread of Internet access, now students from all continents can sign up for a course that is delivered online. Learning has become more accessible and efficient, as a single teacher/instructor can reach a wider international audience, and students can save on travel time and transportation. Within e-Learning, online courses have had a tremendous impact on the way education and teaching tools are evolving. As well, the use of webcasts has been gaining popularity as a replacement for short classroom courses.
One of the key characteristics of e-learning is the use of computers or electronic devices (from mobile phones to i-pads) to provide training, but it is also about “learning that is tailored to individual needs, is flexible and interactive” (Fournier, 2007).
In the industry, a vast majority of the existing professional associations require that their members undertake a certain amount of continuing professional development courses. With the advent of increased communications due to the Internet and the development of associated technology, e-Learning has become an accessible and affordable option for global organizations and for those living in remote areas, eliminating the need for travel, taking time off work, and additional costs (Vemić, J. 2007).
From an educational point of view, webcasts still have the feel of a classroom course, occurring in real time and including some interaction between the participants and the instructor. During the event, the instructor can be seen in a little window in one side of the computer screen. The instructor can also share a presentation or other media. The attendees, on the other hand, can interact with the presenter by asking questions in the chat field (writing) or by 'raising a hand' (speaking). Interaction between the students is an important part of the learning experience (McNeely, 2005) which in the case of webcasts is limited, as the instruction is in the form 'one-to-many'. Webcasts have to be complemented with other instances for social interaction. A good solution for now seems to be the use of webcasts as part of a blended format, enabling students try different forms of learning: online, asynchronous (online courses); live, online, synchronous (webcasts), and live with multiple forms of interaction (classroom courses).
Training in mining: an example
According to a study conducted by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR, 2011), the mining sector in Canada will need near 100,000 professionals by the year 2021. Because of this scenario, companies and educational institutions have been forced to look into alternatives to cope with this labor shortage and find some ways to attract more students. Training is the best way to retain key talent groups and e-learning seems to be the most suitable option.
Traditionally, the mining community has been spread out throughout the world, in remote locations in countries so diverse as Canada, South Africa, Afghanistan, Russia, Australia, Ukraine, and Chile, to name a few. These people need to update their knowledge on a regular basis, so training is a must. Furthermore, professional development is one of the requirements for members of professional associations and a condition of license renewal. In-house training, while an option, is a very expensive one, because instructors have to be transported to remote locations to provide training. e-Learning has become a great alternative for this industry, providing access to training anywhere; all what is needed is an Internet connection and a computer. This way, mining employees seeking to upgrade their skills don’t have to be away from work for two or three months at a time. They can take courses right from their home or office.
EduMine, a Canadian company focused on e-Learning for the mining industry, has been one of the main providers of professional development courses for the mining sector worldwide over the last decade. A few years ago, they incorporated a new format -webcasts- in order to reach a wider international audience, and especially to attract those wanting an interactive course, similar to a classroom course, but not having the need to travel or to be away from the job for long periods.
Considering the demand for training in the industry, EduMine has partnered with two universities (UBC and University of Arizona) to offer a Certificate in Mining Studies (CMS) in a blended format, which includes courses in three different formats: online, webcasts and short courses. This program is for people seeking professional development and advancement in their careers and it is also useful for people coming from other areas looking for cross training (Houlding, 2011). The use of webcasts has been gaining popularity as an alternative for short classroom courses.
Despite their great success, there are still some issues that need to be addressed with e-Learning in general and webcasts specifically.
Webcasts are still relatively new and some people are not familiar with this technology, which translates into spending more time getting used to how they work. Also, they miss the face-to-face factor and the social interaction which gives them the opportunity to network with people and build a business relationship.
Accessibility to the information is completely dependent on having access to the Internet. The cost and quality of having Internet in remote locations can sometimes be an obstacle. This interactive tool requires streaming, demanding that the students have to use a wired Internet connection. Finding networks with enough bandwidth and speed to support live streaming can sometimes be a challenge, especially in developing countries.
Even though there is a number of advantages to webcasts as a cost-saving alternative to short courses, there is a big component that is missing: networking. Students don't get to know each other, even if they attend a multi-day webcast. They may use the chat field to communicate with the whole class, but they feel they don't get the same benefits as they would by attending a classroom course. Networking and break-time interaction play a large role in the overall learning experience as an integral part of every classroom course, which is missed in webcasts.
Some of the companies providing this service are:
- Adobe Connect(Proprietary)
- Cisco Webex(Proprietary)
- Jumpmaster Productions(Proprietary)
- OpenMeetings (Open source)
Here is a presentation from one of the providers, as an example: http://youtu.be/2YVI8L67OqM
Fournier, H. (2006) Review of the State of the Field of Adult Learning: E-Learning. Ottawa: Canadian Council on Learning, May 2006. Available at: http://www.ccl-cca.ca Retrieved on 03/03/2013
Houlding, S. (2011) A Collaborative Model for Developing Future Continuing Education and Training in Mining, Second International Future Mining Conference, Sydney, Australia
McNeely, B. (2005). Using technology as a learning tool, not just the cool new thing. Educating the net generation, Boulder, CO. 4-1.
Vemić, J. (2007). Employee training and development and the learning organization. Facta universitatis-series: Economics and Organization, 4(2), 209-216.
EduMine website http://www.edumine.com